Want more motivation in life? Change how you relate to negativity

Writer Benjamin Hardy says you can actually enjoy having problems.


Benjamin Hardy:  So basically for most of psychology’s history the focus has been on what’s negative about people, on diagnosing illnesses, on depression, on problems, and since like the late ‘90s there’s been a huge emphasis on “positive psychology”, on studying what’s “right” about people, on studying human flourishing. 


And kind of the fundamental root of most of positive psychology research is the assumption of what’s called hedonism, which is basically the pursuit of pleasure, the avoidance of pain. 


And so there’s a lot of researchers in the positive psychology space or there’s a few who feel like positive psychology research is very limited because basically what one of the core assumptions is is that positive emotions lead to positive outcomes. 


And that kind of goes against a lot of different types of philosophies, philosophies like Stoicism or Buddhism or even more spiritual practices that talk about how sometimes actually negative experience, sometimes negative emotions produce some of the best outcomes. And so solely avoiding negative, challenging, difficult emotions is probably actually one of the worst things a person can do who’s seeking growth.


There’s a really good poem by Douglas Malik and he says—he’s talking about trees but he says—“Good timber does not grow with ease / the stronger the wind the stronger the trees / the further sky the greater length / the more the storm the more the strength.” 


And so essentially strong trees, they require difficult circumstances, they require strenuous environments that force them to adapt deeper roots and so if you’re always avoiding negative or challenging emotions there’s obviously going to be some problems internally.  You’re not dealing with things - so I think there’s a lot of problems with positive psychology and kind of the fundamental assumptions. 



Anticipation is a huge component of psychology. Basically what most people – most people anticipate that an event or a thing is going to be more intense than it actually is.


It’s why people wait a long time to jump into a swimming pool is because they think that it’s going to be an intense experience. And so if you anticipate that a task is going to be difficult you’re probably going to procrastinate it or you’re going to put it off or you’re going to have emotional challenges going into it. 


But if you just recognize that you’re going to adapt to it very quickly, once you actually get into it motivation kicks in. So that’s another one of the things that holds people back is that they feel like they have to be motivated first, when basically motivation happens once you start doing something. 


Action precedes motivation. 


So basically a Harvard researcher, and I forget his name off the top of my head, but he says that it’s a lot easier to act your way into feeling than to feel your way into acting. 


And so if you spend a lot of time anticipating an event it’s going to hold you from doing it, but if you just actually start doing it motivation will kick in, you’ll start to actually get accustomed to it, you’ll start to develop a capacity, you’ll adapt to it. So I think it can hold people back, but obviously a positive anticipation can be a great thing. 



So there’s like this idea that you’re always changing but that doesn’t mean you’re always growing. 


So if you want to grow you must change, but just because you changed does it mean you grew or you became better. 


So you could obviously change your habits, and I think that as human beings we’re always adapting and changing based on what’s around us. 


So we’re always replacing old habits with the new ones, but that doesn’t mean that you’re creating positive habits. 


If you want to create positive habits—I mean it doesn’t always have to be hard, but I think generally it’s going to be somewhat difficult, it’s going to take growing out of that. 


So yeah, I would say yeah, you can change habits through a hedonistic perspective, it doesn’t mean that you might be developing the ones you want.


Problems can be overcome by just thinking about them differently. Often, says Benjamin Hardy, people think problems are going to be far worse than they actually are. It’s like hesitation before jumping into a pool. You forget that you can adapt quickly and learn to enjoy, and focus on the negative. It’s a small change in your outlook, but a big change in your brain.

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